Just like in any other line of work, acting requires professionals to do their homework and really get to know their craft. If you’re serious about becoming a professional actor, and following in the footsteps of the legendary performers who came before you, then you will need to know everything there is about the acting industry.
One key piece of knowledge that every trained actor should have is a thorough understanding of camera angles. You could be forgiven for thinking that this is something that applies more to behind the scenes staff such as directors and camera operators, however, when you get to know your camera angles, you will find this makes a huge difference to your acting ability.
Not only can an awareness of camera angles seriously compliment your on-screen performance, it can also convey your professionalism and dedication to your career. As soon as you walk on set, your colleagues both in front of and behind the camera will be impressed with your in-depth understanding of the filming process. So what type of camera angles are there and how can you become more familiar with them?
Extreme long shot
The extreme long shot is as far away as camera angles can get. In this instance, the actor takes up a very small section of the screen. Extreme long shots are usually filmed from the outside and can even be taken from as far away as half a mile. This is a scenic angle which is used to establish the location and setting of the film, rather than focus on the actor.
Similar to the extreme long shot, long shots are taken from some distance away from the actor. A very common angle in film, the best way to describe the long shot is that it is as close to real life dimensions and perspective as cameras are able to capture. The long shot would typically show the entire body of the actor from head to toe. Somewhere between extreme long shots and close ups, people are in focus in this type of shot, but plenty of background can be seen too. Think of that iconic opening scene in The Sound of Music where Maria is singing and dancing alone with the stunning scenery of the Alps Mountains behind her. This is perhaps one of the most recognisable long shots in cinema history.
The close up is where an actor’s emotions really begin to show on screen. If you’re a film buff then you’re probably familiar with the character Norma Desmond’s iconic line; “alright, Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close up” from the 1950 black comedy, Sunset Boulevard. This camera angle focuses on just one actor, with very little background in sight. We only look at the performer, usually from the shoulders up, with everything behind and around them appearing as a blur.
Extreme close up
As you might have guessed from the name, the extreme close up is a more zoomed in version of the close up. This is an exaggerated point of view, showing a more magnified version of the actor’s face than the human eye would naturally see. The extreme close up tends to focus on just one facial feature of the actor, such as the eyes or mouth. Famously used by Quentin Tarantino in many of his films, the extreme close up can create a very dramatic effect on screen. The way the camera focuses on just one feature means that intense emotions can be portrayed in an extremely intimate way. Tarantino isn’t the only director who is known for using extreme close ups in his work. Martin Scorcese’s 1976 thriller Taxi Driver famously opens with a dramatically intimate close up of Robert De Niro’s eyes.
Over the shoulder shot
An over the shoulder camera angle is usually used to depict the relationship between two characters on screen. This tends to be a medium distance shot where the camera is positioned behind one figure, with the back of their head and upper torso in view, as well as the face and front of the person opposite them. This is a common way for conversations to be filmed and really focuses on the front-facing actor rather than the person positioned in front of the camera.
You know that dramatic moment in a film when a character suddenly works out a huge twist in the tale, and the actor seems to zoom towards the camera while the background surges backwards? This is called the dolly zoom, named for the wheeled dolly cart that the camera is attached to during filming. This style of filming was first developed by Alfred Hitchcock and has been used to portray intensity on screen ever since. The example of the dolly zoom scene in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws when Chief of Police, Martin Brody sees a child being eaten by the shark from the beach has become so synonymous with this technique, that dolly zooms are often referred to as ‘the Jaws shot’.
In a high angle shot, the camera is positioned above the action, looking down. A crane is usually used to create this shot which gives the impression that the audience is looking down on the actor from above. The actor is the main focus in the frame and in many films, it is used to portray fear, submission or weakness in the character. The high angle shot is yet another example of a camera angle which was developed and perfected by Alfred Hitchcock. The legendary director often used this technique to portray a sense of foreboding and fear, it was particularly prevalent in scenes where birds descended down on people in the 1963 horror, Birds.
In contrast to high angle shots, low angles, as the name suggests, are filmed from a low angle, where the camera has been positioned below the natural eye line. In the same way that high angle shots are used to make the character look inferior and insignificant, the low angle is a cinematic device used to create a sense of strength and power. This angle is popular in the superhero genre. Usually, when we are first introduced to the main superhero, we are introduced to them with a low angle shot from below.
It’s not just your angles that you need to be aware of when you’re in front of the camera. There are several different ways that the camera will move when filming you and this is also something that every actor should be well aware of. After all, the style of camera movement that the director opts for can be hugely important and completely change the pace and atmosphere of the film. Here are a few of the camera actions you can expect to come across during your on-screen acting career.
The classic pan is one of the most commonly used and recognisable shots in the history of film. This simple movement is a staple of the film industry and works by scanning the scene horizontally or vertically. By placing the camera on a tripod stand, the pan creates a natural movement similar to the ones we make with our eyes.
Handheld camera angles are a great way to create an incredibly realistic shot. This type of angle is used in documentaries and news reel footage, so it translates on to film and television in a believable, fly on the wall style – and gives you a sense that you’re really a part of the action. When a shot is being filmed with a handheld, jerky camera, it is more important than ever that the emotions you portray in your performance are completely real. If you’ve ever been terrified while watching The Blair Witch Project then you know just how much handheld cameras can portray a sense of realism and building tension.
Get to know your angles
When it comes to acting, nothing is more import than getting plenty of practice and rehearsal in. It is well worth spending plenty of time in front of the mirror to really get to know your face and how your features look from different angles. You could also take some selfies on your Smartphone and record videos of yourself from as many different angles as possible. Another great bit of practice is try to master your smile, frown and other emotional expressions. Experiment with holding your chin in different positions and play around with your body language. The more you get to know your own features, the more adaptable you will be when being filmed from different camera angles.
This is just one of the many important features of acting that will be covered when you enrol for an intensive acting course at the Brian Timoney Actor’s Studio. If you want to find out more about the importance of camera angles and how exactly to utilise them to enhance your performance, as well as everything else you could need to know in your future acting career, sign up for our three day Introduction to Method Acting Boot Camp or the 12 month Ultimate Acting Programme. Get in touch for more details.